“5 Things We Need to do to Close the Gender Wage Gap”, with Kelley Steven-Waiss and Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Nov 5 · 11 min read

Look at your promotion process and see where the bias lies. Are managers truly evaluating their employees on the what (the work being completed) and the how (how they are living the values) and nothing else? I would guess the answer is no. We need to do a better job of helping leaders and employees with a review process that is easy to understand and blocks bias.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Steven-Waiss. Kelley is Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at HERE Technologies, overseeing the company’s human resource management and talent strategy. Prior to joining HERE, Kelley was EVP and CHRO of Extreme Networks, Integrated Device Technology (IDT) and PMC-Sierra, as well as held several consulting positions in large global firms, public software and retail companies. Kelley started a software incubator while at HERE Technologies to develop a talent mobility solution called, Hitch. Hitch is a cloud-based SaaS software which uses machine learning and AI to match project-based opportunities to internal employee profiles based on visualization of employees’ skills. Kelley has an MA in HR and OD from the University of San Francisco, and a BA in Journalism from the University of Arizona. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for FormFactor, Inc. (NASDAQ: FORM) and as the Advisory Board Chair of SVEF, an education non-profit in the Valley. She is married and the mother of 4 children and the co-author of “The Inside Gig” which will be released in April 2020.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

Well, I certainly had no intention of becoming a CHRO or of founding a technology company. I simply followed my grandfather’s advice to take the opportunities that most interested me and remain intellectually curious.

But more importantly, in 1994 at the age of 24, I lost my mom tragically. She’d made a mid-life career change to become a Los Angeles police officer. It was a lifelong ambition, and it was cut short when she was gunned down after responding to a domestic violence dispute. She had only been on the job for three days.

She went for it, even though the odds were against her, and reimagined herself after years in a different career. Her example catalyzed an idea I had to create a technology that would help employees reimagine themselves. Hitch is a cloud-based SaaS talent platform that creates a gig economy on the inside of organizations. It helps employees to have greater exposure across the organization, demonstrate their capabilities in areas outside their “day jobs,” and reminds them that they can always reimagine themselves.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

One of the more interesting junctures on the path of my career was the opportunity to take on a role at Genentech after being laid off from an executive HR role. I came into Genentech as a contractor to lead Innovation Communications. I had the raw skills for the role, but it wasn’t well defined.

It was a bit of a “unicorn job,” as I call it. It was deliciously ambiguous by design, so it was perfect for someone like me who built a reputation for coloring outside the lines.

I remember being asked to find a way to reach an audience of product management folks in biotech who had every reason to rest on the laurels of their success. I had to get their attention and open up a dialogue about breaking the status quo. But there was no burning desire nor the appropriate platform for this, especially not with some of them in Basel, Switzerland, and others in South San Francisco.

As I was walking through the buildings in both locations, I noticed a lot of modern art. It occurred to me that art was something that could appeal to everyone — it was both provocative and non-threatening. So, I had an idea that maybe I would use art as a way to drive difficult conversations. The art would tell the story.

I hired an artist (Gaping Void) to draw some characters in different situations that people in the company could relate to. These cartoons also had provocative or controversial statements. The net is that everyone loved it. They started talking about it and debating some of the statements, and it began to go viral inside the company. Employees started hanging the cartoons in their cubicles and inserting them in presentations. The art became the conversation piece that led to change. I realized that sometimes the power of creativity can be an important way to solve problems and connect people.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had just started as the head of internal communications for Siebel Systems. We had a daily news feature running on our intranet, which I managed, called MySiebel. I was two weeks in when one of my employees resigned but then asked me if he could stay a few extra weeks. Of course, I didn’t know much about my staff at this point, so I agreed.

Little did I know, this employee had a bone to pick with my boss. He also had all the access to the newsfeeds for several weeks following his departure, because they were done well in advance. One week after his departure, a story showed up on the front page of that site making fun of my new boss, and it went all over the company.

I rallied to get it taken down, and it showed up again the next day! The employee had rigged it on the backend to reappear. So, lesson learned. When things end, don’t always assume the best. Before agreeing to additional time, I should have done some more investigating. I forever learned the power of asking good questions.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

I want to start by calling out something: The 80-cent difference is for white women in the U.S. If we add women of color to the mix, this number jumps exponentially. If we’re going to be allies for ALL women, we need to make sure people understand the systematic barriers in place and that these barriers are even more impactful to women of color. We need to talk about this.

As noted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research earlier this year:

· In 2018, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 81.1% (a decrease of 0.7% since 2017, when the ratio was 81.8%) leaving a wage gap of 18.9%, compared with 18.1% in 2016.

· Hispanic women’s median weekly earnings in 2018 were only 61.6% of white men’s median weekly earnings

· The median weekly earnings of black women were only 65.3% of white men’s earnings.

· Asian women’s earnings are 93.5% of white men’s earnings.

But there are a few relevant factors at play here:

1. Young women opt into lower-paying roles

High percentages of women make the choice to take on roles that pay less. Women often choose to be teachers or social workers, which pay less than accountants or engineers. But why? In a study commissioned by Microsoft, they found that young girls lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) around age 15 and never come back to it. They did not have exact reasons for why this occurred. Role models, hands-on exercises and mentors are great ways to keep girls interested, according to the study.

2. Women aren’t always welcome in STEM fields

There is some research on why women who start their careers in STEM ultimately leave. Athena Vongalis-Macrow had this to say in a recent article in HBR on why women leave STEM: “There are a number of reasons these women are dropping out of the workforce. Sexism in STEM fields takes many forms, including derogatory comments, stereotyping and harassment, opportunity gaps, and biases about what women should look like.”

3. The parenthood pay gap

There is also the perception that having children means that women work less and that men are more stable. Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. She discusses this perception in this NY Times article. The ramifications of this pay gap include the idea that the man needs higher pay to support his family, while the woman loses pay because she has to leave at 3:30 p.m. to pick up her kids from school. This might be in spite of her working nights and weekends to complete her work.

4. Pay history perpetuates pay inequality

When looking for a new job, people share their current salary with recruiters. The woman was making $100,000 in her previous role, and the man was making $120,000. Both are hired at the same level and expected to deliver the same outcomes. The recruiter may even give them both an increase from their prior job. Yet this still puts the woman at a disadvantage from the start. She will be trying to catch up throughout her whole tenure at the company. This is another way that pay inequality exists.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

At HERE Technologies, parent company of Hitch, there are a few things we are doing. One is eliminating the question of previous salary during the recruiting process. Our recruiters share the salary range and ask if the range fits into the expectations of the candidate. We don’t want to continue to saddle women with the baggage of previous lower salaries coming in the door. We know that is the first step in making sure we don’t exacerbate the issue of lower salaries. The women aren’t ever able to catch up to their male colleagues otherwise, no matter how well they perform.

Unfortunately, we know that bias plays a major role in how people are chosen for new projects and roles. Leaders default to who they know and trust versus allowing someone to broaden their skillsets and learn new things. The future of work dictates that we have employees who can take on new things and learn through doing. This is what the Hitch talent platform is all about. Giving leaders an opportunity to look for talent outside of their smaller team and have an enterprise-wide view of who might be interested in their project. They are able to advertise their project on an internal board where employees have a profile. The project could be for a percentage of their time in a given week or a swap from another team for a specific timeframe. That will help to complete the project and add skills that the employee can use once they return to their original team. And this transparency provides equal opportunities for all, instead of tapping the same networks of colleagues. This helps us break down our functional silos and has a positive impact on our culture of inclusion goals as well.

It’s also important to have a defined career architecture. Knowing what it takes to move to the next level is key for employees and leaders. Most folks understand that this is key to retention. It also helps leaders to have conversations with their people about their career paths and how they can develop themselves.

In addition, we have our first deep dive gender pay equity study underway. We could only do this once we rebuilt the career architecture. Looking at pay from just a job grade perspective was not enough. We needed the career architecture to ensure we were comparing apples to apples and have equal pay for equal work. Following this study, we will also look at our key processes to ensure our system is fine tuned to foster our equal pay for equal work mission.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

· Make sure that educators and parents learn about their own biases, so they don’t make gendered comments about traditional male and female roles. This includes dividing housework and letting girls and boys know that any role is open for them. It also includes expecting girls to understand math and science concepts and not telling them that literature and social studies are more their lane.

· All companies should stop asking about prior pay history. We know different municipalities are passing ordinances about this. But we should proactively just do it, without needing a law.

· On television and other media, show women in roles that have traditionally gone to men. If people see women, and especially women of color, in roles on TV and in movies that have traditionally only been played by white men, it would go a long way toward eliminating bias. The Geena Davis Institute has done some amazing research into how women and girls are portrayed in the media. The GDI says, “If they can see it, they can be it.” Turn on the Saturday morning cartoons and you’ll see how women are taught to perceive themselves. It starts early.

· Look at your promotion process and see where the bias lies. Are managers truly evaluating their employees on the what (the work being completed) and the how (how they are living the values) and nothing else? I would guess the answer is no. We need to do a better job of helping leaders and employees with a review process that is easy to understand and blocks bias.

· Know that this is a process and not a switch we’ll flip to fix everything. We saw the way that Salesforce went through a pay equity process not once, but two plus times. This is not a one-and-done exercise. You need to be diligent in continuing to review this data and handle any outliers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

It would be to unleash human potential by tapping the hidden skills in every organization and encouraging both individuals and organizations to live the growth mindset: that everyone has the potential to grow, change and reimagine themselves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote: “Do what you love and success will follow you.”

My grandfather was the one who told me this as I was about to graduate from undergrad, and it became the mantra for decision points in my career. I knew that if I had passion for something, I would be more likely to perform and progress. That was what led to my “jungle gym career” — I made decisions based on where my interests were and still progressed to the highest level.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I guess that would have to be Meg Whitman. Although I never had the pleasure of working with Meg directly, I have watched her career from the sidelines. She is ambitious and versatile. Her career has spanned several industries and, even politics. When she failed on a big stage in her run for governor, she did it with aplomb and was humble about what she learned about herself in the process. I would love to spend time with Meg to hear about where she got her inspiration, what keeps her going, and if she had the chance for any do overs what they would be.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis

Written by

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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